A hacker sent me an email asking for Bitcoin. What do I do?

Hackers constantly try to access computers connected to the internet. They may email asking for Bitcoin payments or they will make personal information public, sending it to your friends. Aghhh!

You may receive an email stating that your computer has been compromised with some type of malware, like a virus, Trojan, or something else that gives a hacker complete control of your computer.

They say that they can see everything you do and they have been monitoring you for some time. They may claim to have access to personal information that they will make public and send to all of your friends, family and everyone else.

The personal information they claim to have could be financial, like banking and shopping, comments and activity on social media, visits to adult websites, dating sites, emails, personal messages and so on. They may say they have had access to your computer’s webcam and have recorded you at your computer or what is on the screen.

Whatever they claim to have, it would be extremely embarrassing for you and the hacker will tell you that they will make it all public unless you send them a certain amount of money in the form of Bitcoin, the currency of choice for hackers because of its anonymity. There will often be a time limit, like 48 hours or something similar.

What should you do?

What should you do if you receive an email like this? That depends on whether it is real or not.

It is very easy to create or copy an email asking for Bitcoin like this and then to send it to thousands or even tens of thousands of people at a time. Spamming everyone with emails happens every day and our inboxes receive them daily.

If someone sends you an email asking for Bitcoin, it is more likely to be fake than to be real. Although hacking and monitoring like this does happen, it is more common for a spammer to send you the email than a hacker.

Spammers pretending to be hackers try to frighten you into sending them money. Even if only a small number of people are taken in by the scam, it can result in a big payday for the scammer.

If there is no evidence that the person has compromised your computer or has access to its contents or webcam, then they probably don’t. One way to deal with an email like this is to simply ignore it. It is probably spam and a scam, and is just like the dozens of other spam, scam and phishing emails that fill your inbox or junk mail folder. It can be ignored.

What if it is real?

In the rare cases where the email really is from a hacker who has access to your computer, they should be able to provide a list of files on the disk, screenshots of the desktop with your files on it, or webcam images. They need proof.

Whether your computer really has been hacked or it’s just a spam scam email, it is a good idea to scan the computer for malware and to clean up anything that is found.

Scan for malware with Windows Security

Windows has its own built-in malware scanner, but you can also use third party tools.

Click the Windows Start button and type ‘security’, then click Windows Security, or find it and click it on the Start menu. I am using Windows 10 for the screenshots, but Windows 11 is similar.

Windows Security screenshot
Windows Security in Windows

Click Virus & threat protection in the sidebar or click the icon in the main window.

Windows Security virus and threat protection
Virus and threat protection options in Windows Security

It is useful to perform a quick scan regularly, like once a week, but if someone sends an email asking for Bitcoin and says they have installed malware, it is best to perform a thorough scan. Click Scan options underneath the Quick scan button.

Malware scan options in Windows Security
Perform a full scan with Windows Security

Scroll down to see all of the scan options in Windows Security. Select Full scan and if anything is found, perform a Microsoft Defender Offline scan too.

These scans are pretty thorough, but it is useful to get a second opinion from a third-party security app. Here are some useful ones for scanning for malware and cleaning up and they will not cost anything.

Scan for malware with Emsisoft Emergency Kit

Emisisoft Emergency Kit is a good utility for cleaning up infected computers and it is free to use. Run the downloaded file and it does not install, instead, it unpacks itself to the C:\EEK folder. Open that folder in Explorer and double click the Start Scanner app to run it.

Scan the PC for malware with Emsisoft Emergency Kit if you get an email asking for Bitcoin
Scan the PC with Emsisoft Emergency Kit

Click the Update Now link near the bottom right corner to make sure it has all the latest malware definitions and program code. It probably won’t need updating straight away, but if you run it a month or two from now then updating will be necessary. Click Scan & Clean and then click either Malware Scan, or Custom Scan and select the whole C:\ drive.

Scan for malware with Malwarebytes

Malwarebytes is a popular utility for cleaning up malware infections on Windows PC and there is a free version that will do the job. The free app cleans up and you only need to pay if you want real-time protection. You might get a free trial of the full version.

Scan the PC with Malwarebytes and clean up malware
Malwarebytes is a useful malware scanner and cleaner

Run Malwarebytes and click Scan in the home window. You don’t need to select anything and it begins scanning straight away. Just wait until it is finished. It warns you of potentially unwanted programs. These are probably things you don’t need and they can be cleaned, but they probably aren’t serious or the malware installed by a hacker.

Other antivirus and malware cleaners

There are several good security programs for Windows PCs and there are free versions of some of them.

  • Avast offers a free antivirus program and also Avast One Essential is free. Scan your computer for malware with it.
  • Avira has a similar range of security programs and Avira Free Security is fine for cleaning up malware from the computer’s disk.
  • Bitdefender has a whole range of security solutions, but there is a basic free app that can be used to scan the computer and remove malware infections.

If all else fails

Don’t rely on just one security program. Try at least two, such as Windows Security and a third-party app. Always run the most thorough and deep scan that is available.

If nothing is found by any scan from any security app, you can be quite sure, although not completely, that your computer was not compromised by malware. That email was probably a scam. Ignore it.

If malware is found, one of the security apps mentioned here should be able to remove it. If malware is still being reported, then resetting or reinstalling Windows is the next step to take.

Before doing this, make sure you have a backup of all your files, because they will be erased along with the malware.

Reset a Windows PC to clear everything out
Backup your PC, then reset it and remove everything

Open Windows Settings and go to Update & Security > Recovery > Reset this PC > Get started. Select the option to remove everything.

Some particularly bad types of malware could survive a Windows reset and you might need to completely format the disk and reinstall Windows from scratch. Download and use the Windows media creation tool: Download Windows 10 or download Windows 11. It is not an easy task, but it is not too difficult and you should be able to manage it. Make sure you format and erase the C:\ drive and do not install Windows over the top of Windows, which might not remove malware.

One final option is to replace the drive. That will cost money of course, and you will need to install Windows on it, but it is the only guaranteed way to remove every type of malware on a PC. Most people should not need to do this though. Try everything else first.

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